Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 Northface Endurance Challenge

What a freakin fantastic day that was on one of the best race courses I've ever been fortunate to run in.

The day started out early enough, 3:30AM pick-up at my place and I carpooled to the start with friends John Brandershorst, Preston McCaskill and Scott Nesbett. All three were running their first 50-mile, for John and Preston, their first ultra. In addition there were several more friends running their first 50k. I was excited for them and hoped for the best. They choose a great race but one of the harder ones. Many more in our triathlon club were taking part in the half-marathon and 10k race. I also met up with some of the usual suspects from the ultra community, The Endurables for one were out in force, with coach Jim Vernon covering many miles himself photographing runners. Carrie was working registration with Dan and Jessica was working the Muir Beach aid station with friends. Many more friends were out volunteering, crewing, pacing and cheering. It promised to be a great day of running with tons of support.

I felt great, just absolutely super. My time for last year was 9:18 and I figured I was going to be at least half an hour slower. My goal was sub-10 hours but if it took longer I was fine with that too. I was pretty chill about the whole thing and it served me well for most of the day. My main goal was to run hard and finish well, as in coherent and in a good place.

Having done the race the year before helped tremendously. I knew where everything was; the best views, the sweetest downhills, the suckiest climbs, etc. It was fun but tense at the start but soon we were off at 5:15AM after a 15 minute delay. In the dark I ran alone and focused on myself. I like dark starts, it provides me some alone time to warm up to the race. I started slow and kept things in check. The view from the top of the first hill was breathtaking and the lights from the other runners inspiring. I slowly cranked it up but stayed conservative for most of the first half and I felt great.

The real work started for me around the 18+ mile mark. It started with our first big descent on the Steep Ravine trail. I love downhills and Steep Ravine is a beauty, lush and technical in some parts, complete with running water and a short wooden ladder. It started there and I kept at it hard all the way to the finish. I was definitely feeling the Quad Dipsea race from the weekend before, especially on the downhills. The trails on Mt. Tam are lush, tree covered and soft but the climbs can be steep and the downhills technical. Running downhill is one thing, running downhill while hopping, skipping, braking, accelerating, dancing side to side continuously is a whole other thing entirely. So fun but so taxing on the body. I love it though. I wish there was a ski lift to the top of Mt. Tam, I would ride it and bomb the downhills all day or until my legs gave out! The last 2.5 hours was the best. What happened was that I had a real chance of missing going under 10 hours and while I would have been happy with a sub-11 hour effort, a spark lit inside of me and there was a cry for "sub-10! sub-10!" from deep down. I shifted to whatever gear was left and hauled ass. Digging deeper and finding that there is more left is such a beautiful thing. I felt re-energized and alive with the effort. It wasn't fast but it was steady and more than I expected. From the Muir Woods parking lot to the finish was one supreme effort. I was stressed, happy, exhausted and energized as I hauled along with my short legs.

I finished 9:46:58 to the yelling and cheering by friends, 58th out of 200 or so. Like last year the post-race festivities was one big blur, too many things happening in one place and with only half a brain to cope. As far as I could tell all the people in our club who tackled their first 50-mile and first 50K distance finished. Along the way I had made friends with folks from Colorado, Christy and David, who had never run the event. I told them to hold on to their shorts because they were in for a treat and it was gratifying to hear that they did enjoy themselves. These are my training grounds, I race here often, I am proud of our trails and I dig it when other people enjoy them too.

Because I had raced the weekend before I wasn't able to run hard enough to really stress my muscles. I got tired and winded before I could hold a high heart rate for long. I felt deep down soreness and fatigue which slowed me down. It resulted in slower times but also a short recovery. I was fine two days later and could have run if I wanted to. I feel fine now with the desire to do more. A good thing I think. I ended the year strong, healthy and hungry for more. Last year was a great year better than most and this year is right up there. I am blessed and my cup overflows. I will be spending part of my time-off reliving the events of this year.

This is a link to my buddy John Branderhorst's race video. I convinced him to run the 50-mile race one evening at track practice during the summer. A video montage of his day and I felt it needed it's own post. Some of you already saw it. I'm in it here and there. I think it does a good job of giving a glimpse of the highs, lows, of an ultra race.

John Branderhorst Race Video

I didn't run with my camera but there were many people taking pictures who graciously donated their pictures; Jessica Fewless, Carrie Sisk, Jim Vernon and The Endurables, Kevin Luu, Brett Rivers and Ken Michal also of The Endurables, Chihping Fu, Troy Wendt, John Branderhorst, Son Hong, Jay Ligda, Allison Harvey and Julia Prescott. My apologies if I missed your name. Enjoy the pictures.

Before Picture
All smiles at the start, the smiles would come back at the finish too.

Carrie at registration with Dan.

Hanging with the Greats
I had ducked back in to talk to Carrie and she told me to stand with these two guys for a picture. I looked over and when I found out who it was exclaimed, "Why? I haven't won any races?" Haha with two-time Western States champ Hal Koerner and fellow elite ultra-marathoner Andy Jones-Wilkins.

The 50-mile start. Photo courtesy of The Endurables.

Heather Cut-Off
Heather Cut-Off Trail, just another hill warm up for the bigger badder stuff later in the race. It was pretty cool to see everyone crossing back and forth on the switchbacks. As I was going up I was yelling at friends down below. Photo courtesy of The Endurables.

At the Top of Heather Cut-Off
At the top of Heather Cut-off. I really need to find shirts that fit better! Photo courtesy of The Endurables.

Sweet Mt. Tam Trails
The lush, tree covered trails of Mt. Tam, on the Steep Ravine trail. Photo courtesy of The Endurables.

The Endurables 2
More Mt.Tam trails. Photo courtesy of The Endurables.

Karen Yeter and Allison Harvey for the 10K
Tri-club mates Karen Yeter and Allison Harvey with Dean Karnazes and the MC, being recognized for their fast times at the 10k race. Karen Yeter's dad was an ultra-marathoner, she told me one time at a party. I googled him once and found that he had won a 24-hour event in New York, racking up 160 miles for the win. Wow. Photo courtesy of Allison Harvey.

50K Friends at the Finish
Friends at the finish of their 50k race. Photo courtesy of Troy Wendt.

With Caitlin Smith - First Female 50-Mile
Hanging out with more elite level speed at the finish. With Caitlin Smith who is the female 50-mile winner. What a phenomenal year she is having and it's her first in the sport. Thankfully this time I didn't cause her to fall in her race. Photo courtesy of Julia Prescott.

For the photo set click here.


  1. I know exactly what you mean about feeling proud that people enjoy your mountains; I am the say way about the Santa Monicas, nice job on going sub 10 a great finish to the year!

  2. Nice job, Rick! You have such a great attitude. Very impressive. Thanks for the photos, too. Those trails are so beautiful! So different from anything we have up here. I'm thinking I'm going to have to incorporate them into some of my winter training. (Whenever I actually start running again...)
    Enjoy your well-deserved down time, and congrats on your season!

  3. Great pics...dang those was good talking to you earlier this week. Look for my next endeavor coming up. Thanks for all your help with this Ultra helped make it a successful year for me. Have a Merry CHRISTmas.

  4. "Digging deeper and finding that there is more left is such a beautiful thing."

    So true! I'm going to remember that in the months to come. Congrats on your sub 10 hr! That looks like such a beautiful place to run.

  5. Nice pictures. The course is beautiful. Nice report too!

  6. just stumbled upon your blog! beautiful pics =)

  7. Congrats on a good season ender! Now, embrace the chocolate of the off season! :) It was nice to catch up with you out there!

  8. Great job Rick! Sweet photos. You write the best posts.

  9. Great job and awesome race report! That looks like a really fun one. Again you are so fortunate to live where you do! Congrats on a good year! Jess